The Passing Scene

By Tom Mulvoy
Associate Editor

For many folks hereabouts, an everyday habit involves checking The Boston Globe’s swirl of death notices either in print or online. As the biggest metro newspaper in New England, the Globe has long been the place for families to go with the word that a relative has died, and when, and, often, the reason why. Day after day during the week, the newspaper regularly carries a page or two full of notices, many of them with small pictures attached; on Sundays, the number of pages can reach as high as eight.

The notices, which are compiled by families with the assistance of funeral directors, are published in smaller type than news and feature items. They give basic details: the names of surviving family members from spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, and citations of special friends. They also report times and dates of wakes and funerals and other memorial services. And if relatives and friends want to offer a remembrance, the death notices give that information, too.

Then there are the obituaries, which are news stories with headlines that speak to the breadth of a person’s life by use of biographical information and the testimonies of his or her relatives, friends, and colleagues.

Up to about the year 2000, the Globe’s obituary columns were for the most part full of short stories of local people that essentially repeated what the death notices said and one or two that were more expansively written and displayed. Today, given its dwindling resources, the newspaper runs almost no obits of regular local people, but instead, when space permits, which can be weeks, even months, after funeral services, it will publish deeply researched and well-written obituaries of local and regional people deemed worthy of that attention by editors.

This shift in emphasis is no doubt the biggest reason behind the voluminous output of death notices in the daily and Sunday Globes. For a number of years now, families, without recourse to the newspaper’s editorial staff, have been using the death notices not only to announce the basics about a member’s death, but also to write their own stories about the lives of their loved ones. The newspaper has obliged families with such inclinations by over time enlarging the type and giving them the opportunity to have a special layout (albeit at an often-astonishing special price) for their notices.

The newspaper conveniently packages its death notices: alphabetically in the display columns, and by city or town in a related info box. An OFDer, I pay attention to my native community and last week as I read of the death of Bill Foley Sr., of Milton, my mind, as it does when a name familiar from the old days suddenly appears in front of me, unreeled a film of yesteryear.

Bill was a member in good standing of a large family whose headquarters a half-century ago were on Oakton Avenue. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Bill and his brothers Fr. Tom and Frank and John and Jimmy and Bernie and Richie made the trek down Adams Street and Granite Avenue to the old Wollaston Golf Club (now Presidents) to pick up a few bucks caddying at the private club.

Bill was the caddiemaster in the late ‘50s when I made the same trek, if from Lonsdale Street, enlisted in his troupe, and, like Bill before me, began a lifetime’s association with golf in the caddie shack at the old course.

Bill later started up the Foley Canteen Co, which consisted early on of two trucks loaded with coffee, pastry, hot dogs, and sandwiches that were routed at dawn until 1 p.m. through the Neponset shore in Dorchester and down to North Quincy and Wollaston. I drove one of those trucks one summer, and the money I earned paid half my tuition ($960) at Boston College.

Still later, Bill opened and ran a prosperous Dairy Queen-like outlet on Gallivan Blvd. near Toohig Playground before leaving the neighborhood and buying a Chrysler dealership in North Quincy that eventually carried the family name.

I don’t know if Bill will ever get an obit in the Globe, but last week, a name on a death notice in a newspaper passed under my eye and in a trice I was transported back to sweaty summer mornings in 1961 Dorchester to once again appreciate what a time I was born into and what a good man did to help me get along.